I have lately been reading a new book, Saving Words: 20 Redemptive Words Worth Rescuing. It’s an edited volume of essays centred on a t
wo-fold premise. First, there are big, important words in Christianity. They are big and important because they can summarize so much that is important about Christian faith, doctrine, and practice. But second, the church can sometimes be in danger of losing these words. Perhaps they are difficult to understand. Perhaps they no longer seem relevant. Perhaps they are simply unfashionable.
Here are some of the words authors chose to write on. Dead. Doctrine. Communion. Impassability. Partake. Providence. Testimony. Sacrifice. (I am also a contributor to this book and wrote on the word “catholic.”) A copy of this book will shortly be arriving at the college, and I’ll make sure it’s available in our common room downstairs.
Reading this book reminded me of something that I heard from a guest presenter in the preaching class I took during my own M.Div. The guest said that he kept on a bulletin board close to his computer a list of major Christian doctrine, words like justification, righteousness, sin, forgiveness, grace, redemption, and so on. During the process of writing a sermon, he would remind himself of that list and ask himself if any of those themes—even if not the words themselves—appeared in the sermon. If not, he would ask himself how his sermon needed to be re-written.
What both the essays in Saving Words and that guest’s story remind me is the inexhaustible creativity of preaching the gospel. As Christians, we have an incredible inheritance, sometimes called the deposit of faith. The challenge and the joy of ministry is communicating that faith in a way that can be heard in a clear and compelling fashion by the people among whom we minister. Sometimes that may mean using and teaching about odd or unusual words—like catholic or justification or redemption. Other times it may mean not using the words explicitly but having their meaning suffuse our ministry.
When I am asked about the purpose of our work here at the college, I often find myself saying something like, “Forming faithful and creative ministers of the gospel.” Those two words—faithful and creative—summarize for me the joy of pastoral ministry: faithful to a tradition of gospel witness, and creative in the way we appropriate, transform, and share that tradition today.
This message was written by Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.